Many Deaths From Common Causes Are Preventable

Top causes of death in US include many preventable deaths

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Preventing early deaths is a key goal in the health field, and may be possible in bigger numbers than many thought. In a new study, researchers explored these preventable deaths.

For this new study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at the top causes of deaths among people under age 80 and attempted to understand how many occurred earlier than expected and could have potentially been prevented.

The study found that from 2008 to 2010, between 20 and 40 percent of deaths from the most common causes — including heart disease, cancer and unintentional injuries — could have been prevented in the US.

"Talk to your doctor about ways to lengthen your life."

This new study, which was led by Paula W. Yoon, ScD, of CDC's Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services, used data from the National Vital Statistics System for the years 2008 to 2010.

The researchers found that the top five causes of deaths in the US during 2010 were diseases of the heart, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases (like emphysema), cerebrovascular diseases (stroke) and unintentional injuries. Deaths from these causes accounted for 66 percent of all deaths each year. The researchers noted that death rates from these top causes varied from state to state.

"The number of annual potentially preventable deaths per state before age 80 years was determined by comparing the number of expected deaths (based on average death rates for the three states with the lowest rates for each cause) with the number of observed deaths," wrote Dr. Yoon and team.

Using this method, the researchers estimated that 34 percent of heart disease deaths, 21 percent of cancer deaths, 39 percent of chronic lower respiratory disease deaths, 33 percent of stroke deaths and 39 percent of unintentional injury deaths could have been prevented.

In other words, the study authors estimated "that if all states achieved the lowest observed mortality levels for the five leading causes," up to 91,757 heart disease deaths, 84,443 cancer deaths, 28,831 chronic lower respiratory disease deaths, 16,973 stroke deaths and 36,836 unintentional injury deaths could potentially have been prevented annually.

The researchers also found that states in the southeastern part of the country had the highest number of these potentially preventable deaths during the study period.

"Reducing the number of earlier than expected deaths from the leading causes of death requires risk factor reduction, screening, early intervention, and successful treatment of the disease or injury," wrote Dr. Yoon and team. This includes addressing issues like tobacco use, high blood pressure, poor diet, obesity, low levels of physical activity, unsafe behaviors when using vehicles or motorcycles, drug and alcohol use and exposure to hazards in the workplace.

It is important to remember that differences occurred state to state, and further research is needed to explore the numerous factors that might contribute to these differences. Also, the study authors noted that preventing one cause of premature death, like stroke, still leaves a person vulnerable to additional causes of early death, like unintentional injuries.

This study was published online May 1 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
May 1, 2014
Last Updated:
May 2, 2014